Upholding Congress’ Commitment to Veterans
By Congressman Mike Simpson
"It’s no secret that there is a lot of disfunction in Washington, D.C. Even the most casual observer can tell that relationships in Congress are frayed, bipartisanship is in short supply, and political rhetoric has become increasingly divisive. Despite this worrying trend, I believe that most Americans want Congress to come together to solve the issues facing citizens from both sides of the aisle. Thankfully, there are a few topics that can still bring legislators together, and one of the most important is fulfilling our commitment to our nation’s veterans.
"Veterans of the United States military have fought and sacrificed to protect our freedoms and way of life. Just as they have served our nation in times of need, we have a duty to remember them in their time of need. I am proud to support the veterans who have served in defense of our freedoms, and I am pleased to share some of the progress Congress has made in recent years in support of them.
"As many Idaho veterans will know, the VA MISSION Act, which became law on June 6, 2018, established a new permanent Veterans Community Care Program (VCCP), expanded the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers, established an asset and infrastructure review process, and allowed the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to recruit and retain health care providers. This legislation represented landmark reforms to veterans' health care delivery and streamlined how veterans, especially those in rural Idaho, receive care. I was proud to support this legislation and have closely monitored the rulemaking process with the input of Idaho veterans in mind.
"Congress has also addressed an area of grave concern to many veterans: exposure to toxic chemicals through military service. First, H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, extended the presumption of service connection for diseases associated with Agent Orange to veterans who served offshore of Vietnam. This bill became law in 2019. Second, members of Congress have introduced H.R. 663, the Burn Pits Accountability Act of 2019, and H.R. 2433, the Burn Pit Registry Enhancement Act of 2021, both of which I supported. H.R. 2433 passed in the House of Representatives on November 16, 2021, and now awaits further consideration in the Senate.
"Mental health care for veterans is another important area in which Congress has made several strides. The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Improvement Act and the Veterans' Comprehensive Prevention, Access to Care, And Treatment (COMPACT) Act both address the gaps in transition assistance, mental health care, care for women veterans, and telehealth care. I supported both of these bills, and they were signed into law on October 17 and December 7, 2020, respectively.
"During the 117th Congress, a number of bills have passed in the House of Representatives with my support:
- H.R. 2911 - VA Transparency & Trust Act of 2021. This bill requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to submit to Congress a plan for spending COVID-19 relief funds, requires regular updates on that plan, and requires a Government Accountability Office report reviewing the expenditures of those funds. This bill became law on November 22, 2021, and will ensure that VA is utilizing all COVID-19 funding in the most effective way possible.
- H.R. 958 - Protecting Moms Who Served Act. This bill requires VA to implement a maternity care coordination program and requires VA to work with community care partners to provide support for pregnant and post-partum veterans. The reality of many VA medical centers is that they are not well-equipped to deliver maternal health care, and this legislation would help them do just that.
- H.R. 1257 - Homeless Veterans CREDIT Act. This bill requires VA to conduct a comprehensive study on access to, and use and effects of, financial and credit counseling for homeless veterans.
"As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I have also taken great care to secure funding for critical VA programs that support veterans' health care, employment, and housing. The fiscal year 2021 Military Construction, Veteran Affairs, and Related Agencies bill, which I supported, contained many important provisions for veterans including:
· $55 million increase in funding to address the disability claims processing backlog;
· $313 million for suicide prevention outreach activities;
· $661 million for gender-specific health care for women veterans;
· $1.9 billion for homeless assistance programs;
· $504 million for opioid abuse prevention;
· $300 million for rural health initiatives;
· Disability compensation for 5.7 million veterans and their survivors;
· Education benefits for nearly one million veterans, and;
· Vocational rehabilitation and employment training for over 100,000 veterans.
"Veterans have made tremendous sacrifices to preserve our way of life, and the American people are indebted to the men and women who have served our nation. While some progress has been made, more work is required from Congress to ensure that our veterans are physically, mentally, and financially supported, and I am closely monitoring the introduction of any legislation that would enhance veterans' access to the benefits and care they have earned. I encourage Idaho’s Second Congressional District veterans to contact me at www.simpson.house.gov to share their thoughts on issues facing our nation’s veterans."